Cheap Integrity

Cheap Integrity January 4, 2024

Integrity, when offered for sale, always sells for too little. In a world where security is the paramount virtue, Christians often trade our commitment to love others for acceptance by someone else. We find ourselves glorifying “friends” to maintain a good reputation among them. We wish to avoid accusations that threaten our security. And we wish to have enough or more than enough money to do things that we deem important. Why is this the case? Why do pastors lead their people to such compromises when our calling is to seek the narrow way?

Integrity of Calling

A food bank I once served went hat in hand to ask a local politician for funding. Local commissioners were give a certain amount of discretionary dollars to fund projects in their districts. But our local commissioner was in the habit of holding onto the money each year until he had a sizeable sum to bring people to him begging for a little of it. The practice also kept him being elected. Does our calling to serve the poor require us to beg from the wealthy? Often it does. But it is dangerous to our integrity because we want to remain on such people’s good side.

Rich people are happy with us feeding, providing a little healthcare, and temporary housing for the poor. We are making trouble if we ask why the poor do not have access to such necessities.

Community Standing

Another form of security is our standing in the community. It is good to maintain a favorable reputation with our neighbors. Life is easier. But what happens when we begin to value that reputation more than vulnerable people? If a church provides a warming shelter against zoning laws, it can get some sympathy from the public. But if a church begins covering up evil behavior of staff and clergy, the reputation is lost precisely because the cover-up is meant to preserve it. The community will not forgive us pretending to be something we are not.

The congregation will often support the people doing the cover-up after it is revealed. Popular leaders get a pass when people ask, “should we not forgive?” This brings us to the deeper problem of cheap integrity.

Passive Integrity

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Integrity is about fully being one’s true self. Many people believe they have it. And many people believe they continue to have it when they compromise it. When people take a passive stance toward evil, they fool themselves by hoping to fool others. Such is the case of too many church leaders in the present climate. Being passive in the face of growing evil and destruction is meant to appear wise. One is not taking part in “the polarization” of our society and church. Curiously, evil masks itself as good by being decisive. By failing to say this is wrong, we let the evil grow.

Passive integrity is cheap integrity. Fear though, keeps many who know better on the sidelines.

Perfect Love

St. John the Apostle tells us perfect love casts out fear. Love is the narrow gate. Church leaders should shout this to everyone seeking security by other means. Would a food bank need to beg from the wealthy if everyone claiming to be Christian contributed to the needs of the poor and each other? Is healthcare a privilege of the wealthy that they might bestow on employees? These are easy questions to answer. Cheap integrity makes us think they are complex or impossible. Cheap integrity is mediocre and cannot overcome evil.

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